Is Giant Eagle's Forced Self-Checkout CRM Tactic Smart?

Some Giant Eagle stores have started blocking access to self-checkout for anyone other than loyalty card holders while they are using their cards. It's an interesting move, in that it simultaneously discourages self-checkout usage but also gathers far more information about those who do opt to self-checkout, CRM-style.

For the last couple of years, retailers have had this intense love-hate relationship with self-checkout. Chains have touted "customer service" as their reason both for yanking the self-checkout units out and for adding more of them. Higher theft rates have been reported in some stores and not others. Much of it is like any other retail IT deployment, influenced sharply by how much attention is paid to the deployment and how the customers in different neighborhoods—based on demographics—react to the machines.

But the idea of requiring CRM to self-checkout is a new twist. Chains—and that's triply true for grocery—have always struggled getting shoppers to use their loyalty cards. To be fair, many of those difficulties have been self-inflicted. We've seen many associates offering to scan generic loyalty cards to give the discounts to non-cardholders. (Note: The very concept of a generic CRM card is the quintessential oxymoron.) Even worse, we've seen some stores that actively discourage card use. The associates will stop customers trying to pull out the cards, saying, "That's not necessary. The discounts are being added automatically."

By forcing all self-checkout shoppers to use the cards, Giant Eagle could be testing how shoppers react to the cards when they are mandatory. Will they rebel or passively comply? If they comply, could requiring CRM at other lanes be a possibility? Or is the thinking less severe, with merely the hope that by forcing people to use CRM in some parts of the store, they'll start using the cards in all of the store voluntarily?

In other words, once shoppers get used to the extra discounts and other services, will they stick with it always?

The story quoted Giant Eagle spokesperson Dick Roberts saying: "Scanning a Giant Eagle Advantage Card ensures that customers receive all available weekly specials, fuel perks, personalized register coupon offers and other savings, while also making available vital customer contact information in the instance of a product recall."

Those are all true and helpful, but for Giant Eagle to benefit, it is going to have to work at making those benefits happen routinely. Customers need to see those recall notices before they read about them online, assuming it impacts them. Better yet, how about a comforting note about a recall? Something like, "You might have heard about a large recall of canned mushrooms today. Rest assured that we checked and your mushrooms are not part of the recall. Thank you for shopping at Giant Eagle and a particularly large thanks for using your loyalty card. As long as you keep using it, we can keep protecting you."

There are other useful aspects of this program. One of the key problems with self-checkout is that most of the systems were designed for 10 or fewer products. The untrained consumer scanner is simply too slow to efficiently move many more items through the line. When the item count moves into double digits, it's in everyone's interest—the store, the shopper and particularly the people in line behind the shopper—for that shopper to be encouraged to use the staffed lanes.

Signs indicating this are nice, but a CRM problem allows for contact information to be associated with the shoppers who are sluggishly scanning 59 items. What the stores does with that information is a test of diplomatic skills, but with a CRM self-checkout program, at least the store has a chance to do something.

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